Like all overnight camps, Jewish sleep-away camps help young campers learn valuable life skills that enhance their lives in college and beyond. Jewish camps have the added benefit of creating confident, engaged Jewish adults.
Numerous studies have shown youth benefit from attending sleep-away camps.
An article in the February issue of Psychology Today explores “why kids who went to summer camp are more successful in college,” says URJ Camp Kalsman Director David Berkman, who summarized: “They have experience being away from home and making decisions in a non-family environment. Dorms are like camp cabins in that they have to live with someone who’s not a family member. Campers learn how to deal with and navigate challenges away from their family.”
The article Berkman refers to by Dr. Michael Ungar, PhD, also points out that camp makes kids resilient. Campers form new relationships; learn how to be proud of their achievements; have the chance to be “just kids” who interact without the baggage they carry at school; feel in control of their own lives; get a day balanced with activity, fresh air and good food; gain a sense of belonging; and acquire an awareness of culture.
Jewish culture flourishes at Jewish overnight camps. Several studies show Jewish camps build Jewish identity. (See page 16 Camp Works: The Long-term Impact of Jewish Overnight Camp from the Foundation for Jewish Camp, Spring 2011.)
“This research shows that these behaviors indicate a certain level of Jewish communal commitment, and it is precisely that communal identification that many Jewish experts fear is most at risk,” said B’nai B’rith Camp Director Michelle Koplan. “BB Camp is our Jewish community camp with our mission to build Jewish identity in our community’s children.” With winter offices in Portland, the camp is located near Lincoln City on the shore of Devil’s Lake.
Camp Solomon Schechter likewise has deep roots in the Portland community, having been founded by Rabbi Joshua Stampfer, now rabbi emeritus of Congregation Neveh Shalom.
“We are an independent camp with our roots in Conservative Judaism, so we are accepting of multiple denominations,” says Camp Solomon Schechter director Sam Perlin. “The Schechter board has committed to keep our camp less expensive.”
In an effort to expand the benefits of Jewish overnight camps that have been reported in numerous studies, the Foundation for Jewish Camp introduced incentive grants for new campers in 2005. Since then more than 13,000 new campers have attended camps across the country.
“We have learned that providing first-time incentive grants to get kids to attend camp is powerful,” says Koplan.
Perlin adds that the foundation’s incentive grants and training programs for camp staff have had a profound impact on Jewish camping.
The foundation collaborates with various partners around the country to provide the grants. Eligible camps in the Pacific Northwest are: B’nai B’rith Camp in Oregon; Camp Solomon Schechter, URJ Camp Kalsman and Sephardic Adventure Camp in Washington; and Camp Miriam and Camp Hatikvah in British Columbia.
“The great thing about our region is we have so many different camps, each with their own focus to serve different populations,” said Perlin, noting that in addition to BB Camp and Solomon Schechter, the region features a Sephardic camp, a Reform movement camp, an Orthodox camp and a Zionist camp.
All of the camps create connections between Jewish youth, many of which last a lifetime.
“Many of our alumni and lay leaders met their closest friends at BB Camp,” says Koplan. “Others met their spouses at BB Camp. These relationships have become life-long lasting friendships. We’ve found that living Jewishly 24/7 at camp deepens connections and strengthens Jewish identity.”
Perlin agrees, “Three weeks with Jewish friends really works. All the camps get kids in the door. Kids are making connections with other Jews. I’m always so proud of these kids.”
But each camp has its own focus.
B’NAI B’RITH CAMP
“BB Camp embraces what we call backdoor Jewish education, in which we infuse Judaism, Jewish identity, and Jewish values in all aspects of the camp program. For instance, campers will participate in arts and crafts creating tie-dye challah covers while learning about rituals and traditions of Shabbat,” explains Koplan. “BB Camp is an inviting and warm community where Jewish families – regardless of their levels of affiliation, practice, or year-round engagement – can offer their children the chance to experience some form of Jewish community that is not overwhelming or foreign.” Visit: www.BBCamp.org.
CAMP SOLOMON SCHECHTER
Camp Solomon Schechter, founded in 1954, is a Shabbat-observant and Kosher camp that is independent, rooted in Conservative Judaism. The camp is located two hours north of Portland on a spectacular 170-acre wooded facility featuring breathtaking views of our private lake, where campers can swim and paddleboat. Hiking in the untouched beauty of our own forests and protected wetlands augments the exciting outdoor program. Visit: www.campschechter.org.
URJ CAMP KALSMAN
Since opening in 2007, URJ Camp Kalsman has provided a Reform camp experience in the Pacific Northwest. While not all campers are members of Reform synagogues, they are “inherently liberal and progressive in terms of their Jewish identity,” says Berkman. He adds that the camp is in a spectacular setting with two lakes, a mountain, fruit trees and deer. “People who enjoy being outside really appreciate the camp.” Visit: www.kalsman.urjcamps.org.
Sephardic Adventure Camp
Located outside of Seattle, Sephardic Adventure Camp is the only Jewish camp that caters to the large Sephardic communities on the West Coast. Executive Director Leon Covitz says, “SAC combines best camp practices with formal and informal activities within a traditional Sephardic setting. Older members of Seattle’s Sephardic community have infused the camp with stories of Sephardic Jewish pride, mostly from Rhodes, Greece and Turkey. Other Sephardic Jewish communities like Morrocco, Tunisia, Iran and Iraq are also represented.”
Camp Miriam is located on Gabriola Island in British Columbia. Camp staff put emphasis on building a youth community based on values of equality and inclusion. Through creative programming, campers also gain knowledge of Israel, Jewish history, Hebrew and social justice, and they learn to take responsibility for the community and the environment.
Located on Lake Kalamalka which translates to “Lake of Many Colors” in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, Camp Hatikvah intertwines all the colors of its surroundings and the unique personalities of its campers to create a one of a kind summer experience. We have four docks equipped for swimming, water skiing, wake boarding, surfing, kayaking, canoeing and sailing. Camp Hatikvah provides all campers with an environment rich in culture, tradition and new experiences while creating connections to Judaism and Zionism and friendships to last a lifetime. Visit: www.camphatikvah.com.